Thursday, November 4, 2010

Pollyanna and girls' education

Recently, I have had the pleasure of reading Pollyanna, a gift from a dear friend (thank you, Judith!). My English-speaking readers are, of course, familiar with the book, but for me, it's new. Right in the beginning, one scene captured my attention - the one where Aunt Polly is talking about Pollyanna's education.

'... At nine o'clock every morning you will read aloud one half-hour to me. Wednesday and Saturday forenoons, after half-past nine, you will spend with Nancy in the kitchen, learning to cook. Other mornings you will sew with me. That will leave the afternoons for your music.'

At that time, Pollyanna is eleven years old, which makes me think what a long way we have gone regarding girls' education - and not in the right direction. Many teenagers today hardly read at all, and as for domestic skills - oh, how I wish I had learned the basics of cooking and sewing (not to mention cleaning) at an earlier age. It would have saved so much trouble afterwards.

Of course I'm happy about what I have learned so far, and it's never too late to learn more, but it sure goes more slowly when you are already married and have children. Basic life skills are so vital to children - of both genders, but especially to girls, who are future wives and mothers. Basic healthful meals and knowing, at least, how to mend a loose button or a split seam are important in every household.

Some home economics is still taught in kindergartens and schools, though it went out of fashion - but even if there were a lot of home economics classes, the best place to learn things like that would still be at home, where cooking, sweeping the floors, sewing, mending, knitting and working in the garden occur as part of our day-to-day lives. A little child learns a lot simply by observing an apron-clad mother, and later by participating in simple tasks.

Shira goes into the kitchen every day, picks up the broom and begins sweeping the floor, in imitation of what is done by adults. Of course, for now her sweeping has limited productivity, but with some encouragement and persistence, this will change in a couple of years. It's the process that counts, and her being able and encouraged to work with real tools.

After the aforementioned speech from Aunt Polly, Pollyanna exclaims, 'Oh, but Aunt Polly, Aunt Polly, you haven't left me any time at all just to - to live... I mean living - doing the things you want to do: playing outdoors, reading (to myself, of course), climbing hills... and finding out all about the houses and the people and everything everywhere...'

I heartily agree, perhaps because I'm such a dreamer and always loved unstructured time as a child, myself. It was not laziness and not boredom - it was necessary, for me, to encourage creativity. The most unusual projects sprang up from that "doing nothing" time. If time allowed, I could tell a lot about it. However I must just say I think children's time is occupied these days in too structured a way, and not necessarily with all the right things. Children have long hours at school and plenty of extracurricular activities, but not much time to live and learn about life. Keeping children occupied like this is perhaps convenient, but I do really and truly think it comes with a heavy price.

When it comes to educating children, I'm only at the beginning of the way, being the mother of an almost two-year-old and a newborn. Our day-to-day journey of living and learning at home is most interesting, and I expect it to get only and ever more exciting as time goes by.


Judith said...

You're welcome! :) I'm so glad you enjoyed "Pollyanna"! *Hug!* Have a lovely day ...

Susan said...

Shira might enjoy something I did with my children when they were about her age. Fill an empty spray bottle with plain water and let her spray and wipe beside you in the kitchen.

Amanda said...

You are so blessed to realize this while your daughters are young. I heartily agree with this post!!

Sarah said...

And no math, science, foreign language... just half an hour of reading and then academics are over? I could understand that schedule for a five-year-old, not an eleven-year-old.

A Joyful Chaos said...

Pollyanna was one of my favorite books as a child. I still like it a lot and am looking forward to introducing it to our eight year old daughter next week.

The structured learning that you pointed out is excellent though I had never really stopped to think about it, probably because I was raised in an Amish home where I can't remember learning how to do things because much like your daughter my mother always had me next to her and learning bit by bit everyday without realizing I was learning life skills that I would benefit from for the rest of my life.

The part of Pollyanna that used to inspire me the most was her ever present optomistic view of things. I always feel freshly challenged to be joyful when ever I read that book.


Jana said...

If you liked Pollyanna you will probably very much enjoy Anne of Green Gables (the books not the films). Some of the same language is going on in the book about education and being brought up to be a lady. These older books are wonderful sources for how people used to live day to day. Anne of Green Gables was written in 1908 and it doesn't smack of the, "I am woman, hear me roar" mentality of other female writers later that century.

You may want to try reading it in English since I'm not sure how they did on the translation. Something always gets lost.

Thanks for the great post. I'll have to reread Pollyanna.

Rose said...

Anna, I loved "Pollyanna", I'm so glad you got to read it.

I couldn't agree more about home ec/leaning at home. It bothers me that so many domestic skills are being lost by so many simply because they are undervalued. There is a lot of joy to be had in living simply.

Anonymous said...

It just occurred to me, I remember with my first son, and eleven years later with my second...I had studied the curriculum for a Montessori education and found it tremendously stimulating to the home atmosphere I helped provide in addition to their half-day kindergarten experience, then full-time primary education. Have you ever inclined to study Maria Montessori's childrens' garden?

Sheri said...

Anna, Pollyanna was a favorite of mine as a teenager! Thank you for bringing it to my memory. I need to share it with my girls.

And, yes my dear friend, learning at home will become more exciting with each passing year!

Blessings and Hugs to you Anna.

Mrs. Anna T said...

Sarah, perhaps you haven't read the book; this was a schedule for summer vacation, not schoolyear.

Carol said...

Both of my daughters (who are now married) wish that they had spent more time learning to cook and sew--home skills. High school was very academic with calculus, advanced biology and etc. Some of this was helpful for college, some was high stress and of questionable benefit.

I agree, Mrs. T that education should be balanced with life skills. In hind sight I would have worked harder to keep more balance for my girls. It is a challenge that goes against the current of our society